Project: COMPASS

Authors: Kasi Allen, Mark St. John, Pamela Tambe

Type: Report

Publication: February 2009

A Decade of COMPASS: Improving High School Mathematics Education Through a National Curriculum Implementation Center – Executive Summary and Full Report (pdf, 46 pages)


What can be done about high school mathematics? This question has perplexed the educational community for nearly a century. However, in the last 30 years, the issue has received increased attention due to the steady rate of student failure in high school math combined with the dearth of math and science majors at the college level and a growing need for a tech-savvy workforce. Teachers bemoan the poor preparation and lack of motivation among their students. Students, in turn, complain about irrelevant courses, confusing content, and boredom. All sense that there must be a better way.

Back in 1992, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded grants to five curriculum development teams and charged them with the task of starting over. Five years later, each of the development teams had produced an innovative and “integrated” curriculum. All represented notable departures from the commonly encountered, calculus-driven high school sequence of Algebra, Geometry, Advanced Algebra, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. Instead of perpetuating the high school tradition of courses focused on a single discipline, the new instructional materials promoted secondary mathematics courses that purposefully wove together a developmentally appropriate fabric of topics from algebra, geometry, statistics, trigonometry, and so on—not to mention the inclusion of more modern topics, such as networking theory.

The NSF then funded four national curriculum implementation centers focused on mathematics. Only one of these centers focused specifically on the high school—COMPASS. The COMPASS Center quickly established itself as the primary resource serving schools and districts seeking support for and research related to the dissemination of the NSF-funded high school mathematics programs. The leaders also dedicated themselves to creating greater awareness about these programs from coast to coast.

The current report documents the history of the COMPASS Center’s efforts and evolving strategies over the past ten years. Inverness Research has served as the external evaluator for COMPASS since 1998. During this period, we have had the opportunity to study multiple NSF initiatives designed to support K-12 mathematics improvement. We draw on these experiences here as we describe highlights of the COMPASS Center’s work and detail its specific contributions to broader efforts to improve high school mathematics education. Our intent is not only to chronicle the COMPASS story specifically, but also to illuminate the need for and benefits of the NSF investments made in curriculum implementation Centers in general.

Intended Audience

Mathematics Curriculum Developers, Mathematics Educators, Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) Education Leaders, and general public.


Any and all errors are claimed by the authors of this document, Inverness Research, Inc.

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